President Obama meets with National Security staff in the Oval Office. President Obama will name Avril Haines (second on the right), a White House legal adviser, as deputy director of the CIA. (Reuters/Pete Souza/The White House)
There comes a point in most women’s lives when you realize that you’re perceived as public property. Maybe it’s the first time you’re catcalled, or maybe it’s when a teacher tells you to cover up. The experience can come in an infinite number of iterations; the only sure thing is that the first time is never the last time. Walking around in a female body means you are constantly reminded that your value exists in the way that other people—men, especially—look at you.
Stranger still, this being noticed or touched or commented upon is framed as a compliment—it’s not enough that women are meant to endure the neverending objectification, we’re actually supposed to enjoy it. Women are taught to be eager to please not just in our demeanor but in our appearance, and everyday harassment is presented as friendly conversation: “Why don’t you smile?!”
Recently it occured to me that the expectation that women enjoy male attention in all forms may be behind the many unfortunate media profiles of influential women. Whether a rocket scientist’s beef stroganoff or a White House counsel’s high heels—when it comes to covering successful women, the media prefers palatable over powerful. Articles like these are not always written by men, but they always seem to be written for them.
The most recent—and perhaps one of the most egregious—example comes from the Daily Beast, where the site’s first piece on President Obama’s pick for CIA deputy director Avril Danica Haines is headlined: “New CIA #2 Pick Used to Read Anne Rice Aloud at Her Bookstore’s Erotica Night.”
The article’s premise alone is sexist—would the racy reading habits of a male appointee ever be fodder?—but the content is even worse. A neighbor is interviewed about Haines, “reminiscing about when when she would rehab her apartment in ‘jeans or a pair of shorts’” and reporters Ben Jacobs and Avi Zenilman inexplicably include an explicit Anne Rice excerpt that Haines may have read. They paint a picture that rivals Penthouse Forum:
[The event] at the bookstore featured a room lit with red candles where guests held chicken tostadas, waiting to eat as Haines read aloud the opening pages of The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, by Anne Rice writing under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaire, which features passages such as: